Fan-favorite voice actress Kari Wahlgreen is no stranger to superheroes, especially those of the DC Universe. Some highlights include Starfire, Elasti-Girl, and even the Amazon warrior herself Wonder Woman. Her role as Zatanna in the current iteration of the DC Super Hero Girls franchise may be the most brilliant casting choice for her thus far. In this new reinterpretation, Zatanna is a high school drama student and aspiring performer which overlaps perfectly with Wahlgren’s own high school experience.
Over the last two seasons in the DC Super Hero Girls cartoon, Zatanna was forced to deal with the trauma of her past and her growing dark magic. It’s a plot thread that comes full circle in the new Teen Titans Go! & DC Super Hero Girls: Mayhem in the Multiverse animated film. We had the chance to chat with Kari Wahlgren about exploring Zatanna’s vulnerabilities as well as voicing the villain Star Sapphire. Plus we touch upon Wahlgren’s return to the Young Justice animated series after almost a decade.
Taimur Dar: You played Zatanna before in the Justice League Heroes video game but I get the sense this version of the character is even more within your wheelhouse. In the show, Zatanna is all about performing and is a drama student which incidentally mirrors your own high school background. Does Zatanna feel like a natural extension of yourself in that regard?
Kari Wahlgren: Very much so. I was absolutely a theater girl when I was in school. When I was young I did all sorts of plays. I was very dramatic. Zatanna definitely feels like a little bit of who I was when I was young. It’s not too much of a stretch! [Laughs]
Dar: Due to the pandemic, it was a necessity to record remotely by yourself as opposed to ensemble sessions like the first two seasons. Were you still able to retain some sense of camaraderie even when you were recording solo?
Wahlgren: The fun thing is that we would be texting each other sometimes even though we would be recording remotely. Every once in awhile there would be a text thread between all of us that would pop up and somebody would be like, “Oh my God! I just recorded my lines! I miss you guys! I wish we were recording together!” There was a nice camaraderie when we all got to record together in the studio. It wasn’t the same recording solo from our different houses but definitely the connection was still there.
Dar: While Mayhem in the Multiverse brings in plotlines from the 2nd season of DC Super Hero Girls, it’s still very accessible even if you’ve never seen the show. It does reference the episode “#HappyBirthdayZee” where we discover Zatanna’s mom abandoned her on her birthday. It’s one of my favorite episodes and affected me in a way I was not expecting. That episode and the film afford you the opportunity to showcase some vulnerability for the character so did that episode inform how you played Zatanna in the film?
Wahlgren: That’s such a great thing that you brought up. For one thing, that birthday episode was one of my favorite episodes because I thought it was a chance to really dig into Zatanna’s backstory. She has such a great relationship with her dad throughout the series which I love. But you don’t see her mom being very present. I thought it was very powerful that they dug into the fact that her mom left and she had to deal with that. And maybe that was part of what gave her the personality that she had growing up. I loved that they carried some of that over into the movie and explored it even a little bit more. Her scenes with Raven in the movie are probably my favorite because if there’s anyone else in that multiverse who could really understand what Zatanna is going through, it’s Raven. I love that they had a couple of moments where they got to connect and comfort each other.
Dar: You’re no stranger to voicing sorceresses like Charmcaster from the Ben 10 franchise. With the release of the new Doctor Strange film that features Scarlet Witch in a prominent role, it just dawned on me there’s this trope in fiction of powerful magical female characters having to deal with the darkness within themselves and how it manifests in sometimes destructive ways. With Zatanna, it’s refreshing to have a character come to terms with her inner demons without becoming a monster in the process. Was that something that appealed to you?
Wahlgren: It appealed to me a lot because I feel like sometimes girls are expected to be so perfect. Zatanna is very dramatic and flamboyant but she is struggling with these things about herself. I think any time we explore storytelling that tells girls that it’s OK that they have parts of themselves that aren’t perfect and they can work on themselves and love themselves for everything that they are. I always think that those things are very important. It’s interesting that you brought up Charmcaster as well because she’s another one who has had some rough things happen.
Dar: In addition to Zatanna, you also voice Carol Ferris better known as Star Sapphire. Coincidentally, you voiced a pre-Star Sapphire version of Carol Ferris in Young Justice. How does it feel to revisit the character?
Wahlgren: There were plans for much more with Carol Ferris in Young Justice and then the show had gotten canceled. And then when they came back they took things in a different direction. I always had that little “what if” feeling in my heart. This unfinished thing of, “I don’t get to dig into this character more!” Even though it’s a completely different portrayal there was something about getting to play Star Sapphire in DC Super Hero Girls that just felt like, “Yes! OK! I’m at least getting another shot at it!” So that was really satisfying for me personally. Any time you get to play a character again [or] Any time there’s a reboot or a video game or something like that, you’re never guaranteed you’re going to get to play the same character. Any time you get to come back and revisit a character you’ve played in the past is very meaningful. It was really special to get to come back and play Star Sapphire and it was just a blast! She’s just so over the top and crazy. I laughed more playing Star Sapphire than probably anything else in that show. It’s just so much fun!
Dar: Like you said, Star Sapphire and her obsession with Hal Jordan is hilarious. Interesting, she’s still quite endearing.
Dar: Was making her a more sympathetic character as opposed to simply being a crazy ex-girlfriend something you tried to convey?
Wahlgren: Very much so because it’s those little moments that make you feel for the characters. Everybody has motivations that make them act the way they do. Good or bad. And any time we have little glimpses of that, we have little bit more sympathy or understanding of why characters act the way they do. I love that there was that vulnerable underbelly of Star Sapphire who just wants to be loved.
Dar: Returning to Young Justice, incidentally you’re back in the latest season voicing some new characters most notably Saturn Girl. You’ve voiced her a few times, the first time being the 2006 Legion of Super Heroes cartoon. Did they offer the role to you directly or did you need to audition?
Wahlgren: It is one of those rare times when I didn’t have to audition. They asked me if I would do it. I was so honored because Legion of Super Heroes was such a powerful experience for me. To get to work with some of those guys for the first time was such a memorable experience. Like I said, whenever they reboot things or do something new, you’re never guaranteed that you’re going to get to keep playing your same character. So it was very special that they came and asked if I would play the part. I just can’t say enough how meaningful it was.
Okay… I’ve been sitting on this announcement for a couple of years and — I’m so excited to be playing Saturn Girl (and Phantom Girl!) on this new season of #YoungJustice now streaming on HBO Max! 🦸♀️ pic.twitter.com/gfECXuMRVl
— Kari Wahlgren (@KariWahlgren) October 21, 2021
Dar: I’m really curious how you play Saturn Girl differently in Young Justice than in Legion of Super Heroes?
Wahlgren: I think the biggest difference is just the age of the audience. Legion of Super Heroes that we did back in ’06 was definitely made for a younger audience than Young Justice. You could go just a little bit darker with the Young Justice cartooning. There’s something about Saturn Girl that stays a little consistent so I felt that there were certain core parts of the personality that were in both portrayals surprisingly.
Teen Titans Go! & DC Super Hero Girls: Mayhem in the Multiverse is available now on Blu-ray Combo Pack, DVD and Digital and will be available to stream HBO Max on June 28.